The weather looks ok-ish this morning, fresh but not sunny. It should hopefully be ok for horse-riding. Our appointment with the “Huemil Palal” ranch at 10.30 is confirmed over breakfast. In fact, Pilar, one of the two receptionists, comes to remind/plead us to be there on time. It is a half hour drive from our hotel we reckon. It turns out to be a bit longer, especially as the last bit is on ripio, dirt/gravel, but we get there just on time.
The small ranch consists of a few buildings, a house, a few outbuildings, and a small corral. Rodolfo (Rudolph Coombs), the owner, whose family originally come from Essex, is a small man with a twinkle in his eye and is eager to get going. In five minutes we are suited and booted, very simply: dinky harmless-looking spurs for me, nothing for Ness. Our rucksacks full of “useful stuff” are left behind in the shed, and we only take the camera. Four others are already riding their horse round in circles in the corral. Ness is first to mount her horse, with greater ease and elegance than either of us had expected. In fact she made it look easy. Now it’s my turn… the horse starts looking bigger the closer I get to it. I manage to mount my horse, Pinto (means “painted” as he is brown and white), without too much trouble and then I’m taking him round for a single round of the corral. So far, so good.
Rodolfo leads the way, his assistant Joel closes the ranks, and we’re off on a slow walk along the path up the hill. Driving controls are the usual left and right tugs on the reins, pull back to stop and a combination of kicks, spurs, “click click” and “kiss kiss” noises, and spontaneous movement on the horse’s part to go forward. We get to know the others bit by bit as we go up. Three are marine biologists, from various parts of the world (UK, Canada, Hong Kong), who are taking a few days off after a successful conference on endangered species, where they have managed to get fish recognised as another species to protect. This is a big deal apparently, and they are all pleased with the result. The fourth is a girl from the UK who is travelling on her own through Chile and Bolivia. We pass a few outlying farmsteads with barking dogs, but they don’t unnerve the horses, and after about an hour we pass through a gate on our right to climb the hill. Pinto seems to be a slow-coach when he’s walking but a kick now and then spurs him on to a short canter. The views across the valley are beautiful. Many different shades of green can be seen on the slopes, and snow higher up on the mountains, and long distant views towards the Andes mountains. The few pictures taken will hopefully speak for themselves. Higher up we enter a wooded area where Araucaria trees grow. We stop for a mini-picnic near a small open space. There is old snow on the ground. The horses are tethered to the bamboo that grows everywhere. Rodolfo produces vino tinto, salami and crackers. Pictures are taken of the trees and we start to feel our bums ache from the ride.
The ride back down is a bit harder as you constantly have to lean back and push off in the stirrups. Rodolfo several times emphasises the need to keep a short rein on the horses; they know they are on their way back to horse almuerzo (lunch) and, despite being well-trained, could decide to make a run for it. It seems to take a long time to get back to the road. Once we’re on the road I can feel that Pinto would happily run if he weren’t held back. Fortunately Joel comes to my aid after a while and takes him on tow. Ness is at the front, led similarly by Rodolfo. My bum is now complaining and I’m quite relieved when we are met by a car which Rodolfo has asked to be sent up – he is aware of our tight schedule, even if we’re not, and without the car we would not have made it back down in time. The guy collecting us greets me with a polite “how is your butt?” We collect our gear, pay for the ride, and we’re on our way back to Pucón. We’re ok for time. At the hotel we have already been turfed out. Well, our bags have been moved out of our room into storage. Pucón has redeemed itself in my eyes. The horse-ride at least gave us a flavour of a proper ride, even if it were only short (for which my bum is grateful). Villarica is still sulking in the clouds. Never mind, there is another good volcano, Osorno, at Puerto Varas. We drive back to Temuco and get there in good time. We have done 454km in “Speedy Basher”. Ness is suffering a bit from the ride, knees and thighs, not bum. We’re both in good spirits. At the airport we discover that the flight to Puerto Montt left at 16.55, not 18.15 as indicated on our tickets. We should have checked, as we had been reminded. Especially since this is the only flight in our itinerary which was changed (from 16.55 to 18.15!) before our departure. B*ll*cks!
The Lan Chile rep is very helpful though and we manage to get a transfer to Puerto Varas. So we’re driving there after all! A few days ago we had considered changing our travel plans to drive down instead of flying – what’s 400km anyhow? We decided against it since it would mean changing or cancelling too many things. Now we have a private mini-bus and driver. We get some sandwiches in before setting off. Hector is the driver. He doesn’t speak any English but I’m happily chatting with him in pidgin-Spanish pretty soon. At the petrol station I call Hertz to re-arrange the car pickup. A call later, to Hector’s mobile, confirms they will drop the car at our hotel tomorrow morning. Everything has worked out beautifully. It’s a long, long drive to Puerto Varas, along the PanAm/Carretera Austral. It rains for most of the way, getting worse as we get close to Lago Llanquihue, but then lets up. Our hotel is easy to find, close to the centre of Puerto Varas, right on the lake-shore. Hector gets $20,000 as thanks for his efforts, probably a bit too much but we feel sorry for him since he now has to drive all the way back to Temuco, and it is already 10pm. The hotel is fine, if a little characterless, but what it lacks in character it makes up for by way of direct panoramic views of the huge lake, and a wonderful soft bed. We have a drink in the bar – I finally try a vaina – and make it into the restaurant before last orders. Ness spots “verduras” on the menu. Being in the German-settled part of Chile it is no surprise that pork chops and sauerkraut are on the menu (oddly, they call it “choucroute” here though as one would in French) We nearly nod off over our coffees and are glad to crash out in bed. A good day!